Steelers (10-3) @ Ravens (9-4)
The game we’ve been waiting with bated breath since Week 4 is finally upon us. The Ravens get their chance to not only avenge their early season loss in Pittsburgh, when they stole defeat from the jaws of victory, but can also drastically alter the potential postseason fates of both teams in the process. With a win, the Ravens would take the division lead in the AFC North, due to the fact that they would then have 5 division wins to Pittsburgh’s 4. The Steelers play the Browns in Week 17, though, and unless the Brownies can pull off a small miracle, winning in the Steel city with Bruce Gradkowski/Ken Dorsey under center, the tiebreaker train for the division crown would then roll on to the next stop (if both teams have equal records, of course.) Actually, with a win and some help over in the AFC East, the Ravens can potentially clinch a playoff spot this weekend. We can hash out all those scenarios in due time, though. The most important thing right now is just that the Ravens not waste this opportunity to smack the Steelers around at home.
History is on the Ravens’ side in this one, as the Squealers last won in B’More in 2002. Yes, that’s 5 consecutive beatings (I know you Steeler fans reading this were breaking out your toes to try to count them up).
The Ravens are playing really good football right now, having won 7 of their past 8 games. The Steelers, winners of 3 straight, are playing really….lucky football. The Ravens have won their 9 games by a total of 170 points. The Steelers have won their 10 games by a total of 116 points. Seriously, I can think of at least 4 games off the top of my head that Pittsburgh could have easily lost this year: Baltimore, Jacksonville, San Diego, Dallas. Unfortunately, none of those other teams could finish against Pitt, so it looks as if the Ravens will just have to do it themselves.
Pittsburgh, a team that has had good offense-defense balance over the years, have been winning games the old Raven way – with defense, defense, and more defense. Their D is ranked #1 in just about everything, while baby ben and their sputtering O are #26 in the league. You may have even heard that Slow Bill has been complaining this week about their lack of a running game. Yes, please Steelers, try to re-establish a ground game against Baltimore…we dare you. What does Parker average, something like 30 ypg against the Ravens? Matter of fact, Mewelde Moore worries us more than Parker – he has been extremely effective catching balls out of the backfield for them this year.
The Steelers have been able to pull 1 or 2 big passing plays per game out of their hats (last week, Santonio Holmes caught a deep ball on 3rd-and-long when Dallas was ready to stomp their throats) that have done just enough to let the defense win these games for them. The onus will be on the Ravens’ much-improved secondary to prevent this, and not allow another big strike like the one baby ben threw to Holmes in the first meeting that tied the game.
Hines Ward Cheap Shot (that will now officially be the only name by which Mr. Shot is recognized around here) had just 1 catch for 2 yards last week, so you know he will be chomping at the bit rice cake to rebound in a big way against his bounty-brothers.
Another area where the Ravens defense will have to focus is on TACKLING baby ben when they get their hands on him. Too often over the years we have seen Trevor Pryce or Sizzle appear to have that big dummy dead to rights, and he slithers out of the sack and makes a play. NO MORE! Wrap him up, bring him down, Ravens win.
The Pittsburgh D has been a Steel Curtain again this year, there is no denying that. The fact that Ray “First Down” Rice will likely miss this game with a shin bruise is very troubling. If Willis McGahee (who has played like “doo doo” – his words) can’t get his act together and at least move FORWARD when he touches the ball, then moving the ball becomes near Mission:Impossible for the Ravens. Listen, I love Le’Run McClain as much as the next guy, but I just feel a lot more comfortable with his role being to wear down Pittsburgh in the 2nd half than to be the feature back from the opening whistle – especially against that defense and ESPECIALLY given his recent issues with ball security. Joe Flacco threw a silly interception last week, and continues to play worse in front of his home fans than he does on the road. His secondary task (primary being, of course, keeping the chains moving) will be to PROTECT THAT FOOTBALL. Not only when he throws it, but when he is in the pocket – James Harrison is the best in the NFL at stripping QB’s of the ball, as Flacco himself knows all too well. Flacco will get sacked, there isn’t much question about that (Pit, along with Dallas, lead the league in sacks), but as long as he holds onto the ball, and doesn’t allow a repeat of the scoop-and-score we saw in October, sacks are not a disaster.
Sam Koch may end up being the Ravens’ MVP in this one. One area where B’More has a decided advantage is at punter, and field position will play a huge role in the outcome of this one. The Steelers are on like their 3rd punter of 2008, and current guy Mitch Berger is averaging only 40.6 yards per punt, nearly 5 yards less than Koch. This would be a great game for the Ravens’ return game to finally bust out of their slump, but we’re not gonna hold our breath for that one. Yamon Figurs is a forgotten man, and Jim Leonhard, while solid, doesn’t have the breakaway speed to be a huge factor.
One prediction I saw for this game made my head spin: Ravens 34 Steelers 31. Maybe in Bizarro-World. Or maybe that guy just let his girlfriend pick the score for him or something. If you like defense, this will be your favorite game of the year. Both teams will likely be in the ice bath until Wednesday morning. The Ravens, though, will find a way to hold serve at home, and rip that horseshoe right out of the Steelers’ collective a$$es.
Ravens 16 Steelers 10